“WEATHER FOR DUCKS”
THE BALULA FIAT SPORTS TRIED OUT UNDER DIFFICULT CONDITIONS.
ONE of the features of the Italian Thousand Miles Race two years ago was the fine performance of the 995 c.c. Ballila Fiats, especially the one driven by Ambrosini and Menchetti, which actually covered the distance at an average speed of 55.33 m.p.h. and secured third place in its class. This car was fitted with the special Siata overhead valve gear, and a four-speed gear-box of the same make, and a car of this type secured third place in the 1,100 c.c. class again in 1934. For 1935 overhead valves and a four-speed gear-box are fitted as standard on the sports cars and the first of these attractive little machines to reach this country this year was shown at Olympia, and afterwards, driven by Froy and Wrench, engaged in a Thousand Miles Race of its own round the Brooklands Mountain circuit, and despite heavy rain on the first day covered the distance at the creditable speed of 55.11 m.p.h. After this performance it was used for giving trial runs, and was handed to us without any special preparation, so the makers cannot be accused of pampering it.
Heavy rain was falling as we arrived at Wembley to take over the car, but we were provided with the garments which experience has shown advisable with small open cars, namely a Sidcot suit, a waterproof, and a Drisleeve to wear on the outside arm. Thus equipped and with the hood in position, we felt ready for anything, noticing with satisfaction, incidentally, that both doors were provided with external positive locks in addition to the normal latches, which might conceivably be released by being touched by the occupants’ clothing.
Our route to the open country led along the Harrow Road with its greasy surface and treacherous tramlines, and we were pleased to find that no special caution was needed to hold a straight path. Vision for overtaking was somewhat limited by the left-hand steering, which, of course, will be changed on cars intended for use in this country, but we soon found that, thanks to the accuracy of the steering and the easily handled gear-box, fast progress was made through the slowmoving lorry traffic and the open country was soon reached. Weather conditions were unfavourable for reaching high speeds, so we took the car over a favourite test route abounding in fast bends and corners. Here we found the left-hand steering actually an advantage, for left-hand corners could be taken with tremendous zest within a foot of the kerb. In spite of the deluges the mud-guards kept the windscreen free from spray and with the twin-blade windscreen wiper in action we found ourselves soon driving as fast on the wet roads as we would have done on the dry. It was found, in fact, quite easy to keep up 55 m.p.h., which was about the safe limit on this particular road, though 65 was reached on the few straight stretches. Full acceleration in all the gears could be used, and even violent braking failed to provoke a skid. The effect was that of a light car hung between enormous and
unskidable tyres, and we can scarcely recollect driving a car which gave us such confidence on wet roads. In the end we gave up the test and returned home with the conviction that nothing short of deliberate ” broadsiding ” would upset the Ballila’s determination to remain on the road.
A short test we were able to make the next day over comparatively dry roads of even more winding character confirmed our impression of the Ballila’s neatness in handling, and with full use of gears and brakes surprising averages can be set up in difficult country. Such stability can only be attained on a chassis in which everything works together. The suspension is not harsh at low speeds, yet prevents roll or pitch on fast corners or all-out, and this in turn
maintains the essential condition of keeping all four wheels on the road. The steering is light without back-lash, • correctly geared for the size of the car and has a convenient caster-action. A good lock is a feature of most Fiats, and the car tested could be turned round in a 30 foot main-road without reversing. The engine of the Ballila has much. of the big car feeling which -characterises the chassis and carries out its task with a pleasant absence of fuss, and has a useful reserve of power low down. It runs smoothly throughout its range and is mechanically quiet, but the exhaust note is rather hearty, and care has to be used when accelerating in towns on second gear. The clutch and gear-box add much to the enjoyment of driving, and the latter gives a quick and simple change between all the gears, with a synchro-mesh mechanism which further improves matters on third and top. The rev-counter was unfortunately not working, but the
comfortable maximum speeds on second and third were 38 and 58 m.p.h.
Conditions improved somewhat on the second day of the test, and we were able to try the car at Brooklands. A great deal of the track was up, but gaining the Member’s Banking from the end of the Finishing Straight, we reached just 70 m.p.h. by the time we reached the Fork and had to slow down again, so the maximum speed over a flying lap, even without allowing for the strenuous life that this particular car had had, would be about 75 m.p.h. ; the speedometer incidentally was 3 per cent. slow at 60 m.p.h. With the screen raised 68 m.p.h. can be reached. The braking figures were spoilt by the wetness of the concrete, but even so we stopped in 70 ft. from 40 m.p.h. As may be gathered, there is virtually
nothing to complain about in the chassis Or the handling of the Fiat, and any criticisms are confined to the particular body fitted. In the first place, the windscreen in a low one, and with the hood erected, the writer found it necessary to stoop in order to see out properly, particularly as the wiper blades were too short to clean up to the top of the glass The driving seat is fixed, so it is not possible tp move further back and so to lower the line of vision.
The hood itself is quite efficient, but it is difficult to erect for the driver alone. The sides of the body are much cutaway, and a good deal of water and mud are thrown out from the sides of the front wings to the driver’s arms, but this trouble could easily be overcome by fitting canvas shields across the openings in bad weather. The headlights are weak, limiting the speed to about 45 m.p.h. even with the full beam, but no doubt these could be replaced by a more efficient type with English characteristics None of these complaints are serious, and arise mostly through the result of a heavy-clothed six-foot driver, fitting himself into a body of semi-racing lines. In spite Of the close fit, we liked it, for the controls all came to hand, there was sufficient room to reach the pedals, with a special foot well for the left foot when not resting on the clutch pedal, both wings were visible, and the steering—Ashby spring wheel, came nicely into the lap. An unusual feature, less needed on the Fiat than a good Many ears, was a thin division between the two front seats to
prevent the driver sliding sideways when the passenger’s seat is unoccupied, and pads are on the sides of the body wherethe knees of the driver and passenger rest against them. The engine has vertical overhead valves, Push-rod operated, and a sturdy three
bearing crank-shaft, and -gives 36b. h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m. A single down-draft Zenith carburettor is used with the efficient ” starter ” attachment, supplied
from the ten-gallon rear tank by an enginedriven petrol pump, while the coil ignition has automatic advance and retard, with
a control knob to retard it for starting purposes. The constant voltage dynamo is belt driven and thermo-siphon cooling is used. The gear-box is in unit with the engine and has a synchro-mesh mechanism for third and top gears., A single-plate
clutch is used, and the transmission follows the usual lines of open propeller shaft with two universal joints, and spiral bevel back axle.
The chassis is of channel pattern, with cross-bracing, half-elliptic springs are used all round, with friction shockabsorbers, and the brakes are hydraulically operated. The hand brake works on the transmission.
The two-seater body is attractive and very sporting in appearance, and the car we tried was finished with a dark-red body and lighter Coloured wings. The seats are well padded, and in order to give the driver more freedom the passenger’s seat is placed somewhat to the rear, with a foot rest. The facia board looked very practical, with its large Jaeger speedometer and rev-counto oil pressure and petrol gauges and the knobs for the choke starter and throttle controls, while the floor is covered with a thick rubber Mat which should be hard wearing and draft-proof.
Behind the two seats comes the petrol tank, and then further back a large tail locker which is big enough to take two competition tyres, with room around them for coats, small suit-cases, and the like. The entire rear panel is carried on hinges at the front end and is supported in the open position by two struts. This form of construction has the advantages of simplicity and lightness, and makes the best use of the limited space available on a car of short wheel-base.
Fiat cars are handled in England by Fiat (England), Ltd., whose headquarters at Lancelot Road, Wembley, Middlesex, while the London Distributors are Messrs. .GordonWatney, 31,Brook St., London ,W.1. Altogether, the Ballila Sports offers something rather different in the small sports car world, with its comparatively slow-running engine, and its feeling of solidity on the road, and small-car “
fans” should try it.